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News Bytes of the Week—Group offers GOP prez candidates $10,000 to prove anti-medical marijuana claims

Milk with hormones, toll from contaminated pet food and more…

Deal—or no deal? Lobby offers GOPers $10,000 to prove anti–medical pot claims
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) next week plans to offer GOP presidential wannabes $10,000 if they can back up their claims that medical marijuana is either unnecessary or "too dangerous" for medical use. According to an MPP official, the Washington, D.C.–based group and two medical marijuana– using patients will hold a news conference in Manchester, N.H., on Thursday (Dec. 6) at which the pot reform lobby will offer the max political contributions ($5,000 for the primary campaign, $5,000 for the general election) to Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney if they can provide evidence backing up their statements. Mind you, the MPP, which believes pot should be regulated like alcohol, doesn't expect to be forking out any dough. To wit: the event will reportedly feature a billboard featuring images of all three candidates sporting Pinocchio-like noses after the fairy tale character whose schnoz grew longer with each fib. "For months, Giuliani, Romney and McCain have been making statements about medical marijuana that are simply false—claiming, for example, that medical marijuana is either not needed or too dangerous to use as medicine," the MPP official says. "We've offered them the scientific evidence and they've chosen to ignore it. So, if they won't listen to science or compassion, we're going to try speaking a language we know they understand—campaign contributions. It's time for these candidates to either prove what they've been saying or stop lying to the voters.'' (SIMM—Stichting Institute of Medical Marijuana)

America, land of the tubby
The latest stats on adult obesity in the U.S. are out: The good news is that they don't seem to be rising dramatically, the bad news is that they're not going down, either. A hefty (no pun intended) 72 million Americans are now considered to be porcine, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the adult obesity rates seem to be holding steady at around 34 percent. According to the CDC, obesity rates in this country had been inching up since 1980, when around 15 percent of the adult population was considered to be too beefy. The CDC's newest report is based on a survey of 4,400 adults ages 20 and older in 2005 and 2006. Seems women are doing a bit better than the men in keeping a lid on poundage: The obesity rate for women has been about the same since 1999–2000, whereas for males it has climbed from around 27.5 percent. No word yet on the latest rates of childhood corpulence, though last time the CDC looked (2003–2004) they were on the rise. (CDC report: "Obesity Among Adults in the United States--No Change Since 2003-2004")

Research warns CT scans could up cancer risk
A new study says that millions of Americans, especially children, may be needlessly receiving CT (computed tomography) scans, warning that radiation from the x-rays (which provide three-dimensional views of organs and tissue) in a few decades could cause as many as 2 percent of all cancers in the U.S. "We are very concerned about the built-up public health risk over a long period of time," study co-author Eric Hall of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center told the Associated Press. Hall and colleague David Brenner argued in The New England Journal of Medicine that though the scans can be life savers by diagnosing injuries, cancer and other health woes, they are used far too routinely given the potential dangers. It is commonly believed that x-rays are harmless, because of the relatively small amounts of radiation involved. But Hall and Brenner show this is unlikely in the case of CT scans. They base their conclusions on studies of thousands of Japanese atomic bomb survivors who were about two miles (3 kilometers) away from the explosions and received radiation doses similar to several CT scans. About 62 million scans were conducted in the U.S. last year (more than four million of them on children), up from three million in 1980. The researchers stress that in most cases the benefits outweigh the risks, but said that as many as a third of all CT scans are unnecessary, meaning that as many as 20 million adults and more than one million kids a year may be needlessly put at risk. They recommended three ways to reduce associated risks: lower the CT-related radiation doses in individual patients; use alternatives with no radiation risk when possible such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); and decrease the total number of CT scans prescribed. (FDA)

Hint: Don't drink the hand sanitizer
Hey kids, take note: Alcohol hand scrubs are designed to clean your hands—not to drink. Physicians in the U.K. report in the British Medical Journal that the number of incidents of poisoning from alcohol hand rubs reported to London poison centers climbed in the 16 months surrounding widespread introduction of the sanitizers. They say little kids and elderly adults drank it by mistake but unlike those whose ignorance could be excused, adults tended to deliberately down them. Who knew?(British Medical Journal)

Over-the-counter drug slows lung damage in cystic fibrosis
Researchers report in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine that ibuprofen can slow the loss of lung function in children and teens suffering from cystic fibrosis (CF). The reason: lung damage is caused by inflammation and ibuprofen is an effective anti-inflammatory. In a study of more than 10,000[OR: 10,325] patients (1,365 who took the anti-inflammatory drug and 8,960 who did not), those who took high doses of ibuprofen twice daily over a period of two to seven years had a 29 percent less decline in lung function than those who did not use it. Each dose ranged from 20 to 30 milligrams per kilogram of the patient's weight; some took up to 1,600 milligrams per dose (generally over-the-counter preparations advise a maximum daily dose of 1,200 milligrams for adults and children over age 12). Researchers said the benefits outweigh the slight risk of gastrointestinal bleeding from ibuprofen. "There is still some concern about the safety of ibuprofen," said lead researcher Michael Konstan, director of the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, and a professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. "We continue to search for even safer approaches to anti-inflammatory treatment for CF. In the meantime, we think that CF patients, especially children and adolescents with early lung disease, should be treated with ibuprofen." Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that causes mucus to be thick and sticky. It clogs the lungs, causing breathing problems and repeated bacterial infections that lead to lung-damaging chronic inflammation that is almost always fatal. (American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine)

Toll from pet food contamination
A new Michigan State University (M.S.U.) survey shows that 348 dogs and cats apparently died this year from eating tainted pet food. The survey, based on data from veterinarians, veterinary technicians and pathologists, also determined that the deaths may have been caused by a potentially deadly combination of two food contaminants—melamine and cyanuric acid. "Separately, those two compounds are pretty harmless, but when combined they form crystals which can block the kidneys," said Wilson Rumbeiha, an associate professor in M.S.U.'s Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health. "And, unfortunately, these crystals don't dissolve easily. They go away slowly, if at all, so there is the potential for chronic toxicity." The chemicals were found in pet grub imported from China and had reportedly been added to try to artificially inflate the protein levels. Reports of dying pooches and kitties led to a massive recall of affected pet foods and treats. According to the survey, 236 cats and 112 pups were among the victims. Rumbeiha speculated that more cats got sick because they are smaller; tiny breed dogs were also found to be more vulnerable. Among other findings: nearly 98 percent of the cases were in the U.S. and the remaining 2 percent in Canada; Texas suffered the most cases, followed by Illinois and Michigan; the animals affected ranged in age from two months to 18 years of age; and, about 25 percent of the affected animals had preexisting kidney or cardiovascular conditions that made them more susceptible. (Michigan State University)

Got hormones?
Want to know if the milk you buy contains hormones? Good luck in Pennsylvania. The state agriculture department there recently barred farmers from telling consumers whether or not they're feeding their cows hormones. The move prompted over 65 consumer, agricultural, animal protection, retail and public health organizations to write a letter to Gov. Ed Rendell (D.) urging him to override it. "The PDA [Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture] action interferes with consumers' right to know about the foods they eat," Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Washington, D.C.–based Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. "Many consumers prefer to buy milk produced by cows not treated with artificial hormones, as evidenced by the success in stores across the country of such milk." The PDA in October reportedly told 16 state dairies that they could not use certain labels on milk, including "Our farmers' pledge: No artificial growth hormones"; "From cows not treated with the growth hormone rBST"; and "Free of artificial growth hormones." The ban is set to take effect on February 1. "We urge the State of Pennsylvania to rescind this poorly conceived policy which interferes with the rights of farmers, dairies and consumers, and constitutes inappropriate government interference in the marketplace," said Ronnie Cummins, National director of the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association. "This new policy on the part of PDA was issued with no opportunity for comment or input from consumers, dairy farmers, processors or the general public, and as such, is a violation of basic democratic process."

Lawyer didn't transmit TB to other passengers
Apparently no fellow passengers contracted tuberculosis from the globe-trotting lawyer who flew to Italy in May to get married while stricken with a virulent form of tuberculosis. The Associated Press reports that preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about 250 U.S. passengers aboard a May 12 Air France flight from Atlanta to Paris with Andrew Speaker tested negative for the respiratory ailment; ditto those on a return flight from Prague to Montreal, according to Canadian health officials. Speaker sparked international outrage when it was learned that he continued with his travel plans despite warnings from health officials that he tested positive for the respiratory ailment. (Associated Press)

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